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War on Waste starts in the West

Like most Australians, I’m a keen recycler – one of the 96 per cent who told a recent survey they participate regularly in recycling, by separating their bottles, cans, papers and other recyclable material every week. 

The National Waste Report 2016 tell us that Australia has increased the amount of waste we recycle in by almost 10 per cent over nine years, from 49 per cent in 2006/07 to 58 per cent in 2014/15.

And 88 per cent of respondents to an Australian Council of Recycling survey said they wanted governments - local, state and federal, to do more to assist and build Australia’s recycling sector.

So it’s no surprise that the issue of how we manage the 64 million tonnes of waste Australia produces each year has become a barbecue stopper – particularly since China’s decision not to import anything but the most pristine products for recycling.  

Australia has only been exporting about four per cent of our waste to China for recycling. While that doesn’t sound much, it represents 1.3 million tonnes of waste, and includes around 30 per cent of our paper and cardboard and 35 per cent of recyclable plastics. 

These are the products we so enthusiastically put into our recycling bins.  

So the debate prompted by China’s decision has raised questions like, how much do we really know about what happens after we’ve popped that glass jar or plastic bottle in the recycling bin?  

Where does it go, who processes it, and what can it be used to produce?

Who knew, for example, that recycled glass could be used to make new roads? 

Or that recycled plastics can be used in decking or to create shipping pallets?

At the Meeting of the Environment Minister’s the other week in Melbourne, I, along with my colleague Minister Frydenberg and environment ministers from all of our states and territories and local government representatives, tackled these and other issues around how we manage our waste.

Together we’ve come up with a national ‘war on waste’ plan to help Australians reduce, reuse and recycle.

It was clear at the meeting that in many ways, China has presented us with a great opportunity to work harder for both environmental outcomes and economic opportunities in our waste management. 

It is great news that collectively, ministers have endorsed a target of 100 per cent of all Australian packaging being recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 or earlier.

Governments will work with the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, representing more than 900 leading industry companies, to deliver this target.

Together we will scope what domestic recycling facilities we have, and develop our national recycling industry to not only take and process the waste that would have gone to China, but use it as an opportunity to grow our own domestic capabilities.  

The value of recovered materials in our country is already $2.9 billion and rising, which holds enormous promise for jobs and growth. 

Ministers also agreed to advocate for increased use of recycled materials in the goods that government and industry buy, such as paper, road materials, and construction materials, and to collaborate on creating new markets for recycled materials.

We also need to explore opportunities to advance waste-to-energy and waste-to-biofuels projects, as part of a broader suite of industry growth initiatives, recognising the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste as a priority.

As part of this, we have committed to reviewing and updating the 2009 Waste Strategy by year’s end. 

On food, we reaffirmed our commitment to halving Australia’s food waste by 2030.

I applaud the communities and individuals who are already contributing to this target, encouraging residual food waste to be composted rather than simply dumped is the next step.

On product waste, we have fast-tracked the development of product stewardship schemes for photovoltaic solar panels and batteries. 

This builds on existing and successful industry-led product stewardship approaches that manage products like televisions and computers, tyres and oil. 

The welcome news that 94 per cent of cosmetic and personal care products such as conditioners, shampoos and face washes in Australia are now free of damaging microbeads shows what industry can achieve without regulation.

Finally, of course we can aim simply to produce less waste – something Western Australians seem to be good at.  The most recent National Waste Report found that WA produced the smallest Municipal Solid Waste amounts in the country by sending only 1.6Mt of waste to council tips.  

However we aren’t so good at turning waste to resources with a resource recovery rate of 42 per cent – that’s nine percentage points below the Australian average. 

So I encourage all West Australians to join in this war on waste.

Together with all levels of government and industry, consumers can make a difference.

From avoiding small plastic bags in supermarkets to purchasing products made from recycled materials – we can reverse a global trend and stop plastics ending up in the bellies of marine life, and perhaps more importantly, our children. 

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